TCS project a ‘masterclass in incompetence’: U.K. panel

Representational image.

Representational image.

A British Parliamentary Committee has slammed a loss-making Tata Consultancy Services contract with Britain’s Home Office as a “masterclass in incompetence,” after going £229 million over budget and facing delays of more than four years.

“None of the cost-saving and service benefits set out in the original business case have been achieved,” concluded the report published last week by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on the contract for the modernisation of Britain’s criminal record checking service — ‘the disclosure and barring service’ (DBS) — that had been won by TCS in 2012. MPs warned that there was a strong risk that the modernisation work would not be completed by the time the contract ended in 2019.

‘Poor planning’

“The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) modernisation programme is another example of a Home Office project marred by poor planning and contracting, delays, spiralling costs, and a failure to understand what service users want,” said the report.

Contrary to the project’s ambitions, it remained paper-based, while an ‘update’ service which allowed users to update their records, was “more expensive for both government and users” and was used by fewer people.

DBS checks are required for those working in many roles in healthcare and childcare in the U.K. The project was initially meant to have been completed in 2014, but had already faced delays by the time TCS took over the contract from previous holder Capita. With just a year to go before the end of the contract, TCS and the Home Office were “locked in negotiations” over where the fault lay, while neither could offer details on how the project deadline could be met by March 2019, the committee warned in its report.

“TCS did not think it was its job to offer any advice that might have helped the Home Office run the programme better, and adopted an old-fashioned ‘big-bang’ approach rather than splitting the task into smaller, manageable pieces from the outset. This led to a timetable that was unrealistically optimistic leading to additional costs.”

Payment structure

It was also highly critical of the payment structure agreed with TCS, which related to the volume of transactions rather than completing the modernisation programme, with TCS able to earn a profit margin of up to 22%. While the contract reduced the amount paid for transactions beyond three years, this had not prevented the delays to the project. “TCS says it is only now beginning to make a loss and could still return to profitability through negotiations with DBS,” the report noted.

“Delivering technology-enabled business transformation is at the heart of TCS’ work and we look forward to bringing our expertise in helping DBS to achieve operational efficiencies, an enhanced customer service and a new digital channel for citizens and employers,” TCS had said when it was awarded the contract.

“When we looked at it, we underestimated the complexity of this project,” said Shankar Narayanan, TCS’ U.K. head at an oral hearing of the committee in March. “When we bid for the programme, we bid against a specific set of requirements. Clearly, hindsight, a lot of things could have been done differently in terms of planning.”

He also defended the firm’s approach, at the hearing. “As soon as we realised we were not making progress, sometime in the middle of 2015, we redesigned the ways of working,... to improve the momentum behind the programme and subsequently, we have been able to make progress and implement the first phase, ... the basics and barring services, in September,” he told the committee. “TCS and DBS are discussing the recommendations made by the PAC and will incorporate these, as appropriate and feasible, in the remainder of the modernisation plan,” said TCS in a statement following the report.

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Printable version | Jun 26, 2022 12:19:27 pm |